A question I consistently get from my CCNA students when I teach a Cisco networking associate certification class is: What will I be expected to do in a new position working with computer networks.
Completion of the CCNA exam gives you a credential, but it doesn't give you experience. While you do get lots of book learning and some hands-on troubleshooting as you prepare for an exam, you will have a much better idea of what to expect to face in a new network administrator position if you have had some real-world experience.
In fact, I tell my students that they should try to get as much hands-on experience with Cisco routers and switches as possible before considering a job in networking, and it really does help in preparing for the exam.
Students expecting to break into the networking gig once they pass their CCNA should also be prepared to encounter challenges in security, a fundamental area of networking. Additionally, network administrators are more likely now to address issues in two newer technology areas: wireless and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Knowledge in these three areas is critical if you want to stand out among other job applicants and hit the ground running in a new job.
On the wireless front, understanding the 802.11 specification is key--the differences between 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11n protocols. While there's a chapter dedicated to wireless in the CCNA prep books, getting a solid understanding of these technologies will help you in any networking job, especially since wireless and networking go hand in hand at many companies.
VoIP is another technology area that you should understand pretty well for a new networking job. Phone systems aren't what they used to be. Now phones are part of the network and integrate with data as a critical part of any business. Understanding VoIP before you get there will make a new networking job that much easier. Understanding Cisco's VoIP and unified communications offerings will definitely give you an advantage.
Security is more critical than ever! The more you know, the better. Preparing for the CCNA, you will learn the basics of password and general security processes; on the job, you'll be expected to understand security at a significantly deeper level—particularly if the organization you join has regulatory compliance requirements or is a target for hacking, for example. The U.S. government, for instance, has to deal with over 3 million hacker attacks per day. While you may not work for an organization that has to deal with this kind of onslaught, you will likely still be expected to take the necessary measures to secure the company’s network and data assets. Cisco has some excellent resources to help you; check out this site for other study materials and supplemental info.
These are just a few of the topics that you'll be expected to know on top of the CCNA basics. I'll talk about these things in greater detail in my next few posts. Until then, do your best!
--Victor R. Garza